Connecting the Distance

Connections. There is something inherent in this life about connections. Connections between people, places, and things. They seem to have a life of their own. They find you. Something as simple as meeting the friend of a friend (of a friend of a friend), and instantly, serendipitously, you connect. Ideas that would have never occurred to you, in isolation, become blindingly obvious in a relevatory flash. The world presents itself to you, almost just to test your attention and curiosity, a cosmic game of concentration. Connections happen, without thought, as if they were predisposed, inevitable conclusions given the circumstances, just simply a matter of time until two particular bouncing molecules came into proximity and reacted to each other.

The greatest barrier I’ve found to making connections is that first and basic step of putting yourself out there, exposed to the chaos of the world. I have found that in doing so, your experiences build on each other, opening doors and giving more meaning to everything to follow. It requires not so much conscious thought, as an open disposition to active participation in the world around you. By regularly putting yourself out there, you’ll sooner or later find yourself amazed at the momentum that life picks up. One person, place, idea, thing leads to another. This is probably quite obvious to most people, but speaking as someone naturally isolated and introverted, this way of our world wasn’t always obvious. I learned it, slowly and awkwardly. Kind of how one learns to climb mountains. I’m still learning and I’m still slow and awkward, but it helps to stop and recognize progress along the way.

Essentially, it has helped me to learn to embrace things, people, and ideas as they come. It begins to seem like things happen for a reason. I’m not convinced they should, but I swear they do. The turn of the phrase is to say that we make connections, but frankly, I find that connections make themselves. Your presence of mind just serves as the conductor. When it does happen, it’s right in front of your nose, it’s obvious. You’d have to willfully turn away and pretend like you didn’t see it. And some people do just that. All the time. Myself included. It’s awful. I think it’s because sometimes we’re afraid and prefer not to notice. I think way too much in general and can get self-absorbed, wrapped up in my thoughts, my own fears and obsessions, my own silly world (see Exhibit A: this very website) and just put up a wall.

And why is that? Well, connections can interrupt and invade your private space. It is the world reminding you that it is bigger than you, with more moving pieces than you can even begin to fathom. But here is a sudden opportunity, to go somewhere, to meet people, to say hello to someone on the bus you haven’t seen in ten years, and if you would like to buy the ticket and take the ride and see what’s on the other side, then now is that fleeting moment. If you don’t, those missed opportunities can accumulate like sediment, mentally robbing you of your ability to say yes, of your perceived power to affect and embrace change in your own world. They might keep you up at night. Maybe that particular passing connection to a person or idea would have amounted to jack squat, bupkis, a hill of beans. But if you did not pursue it, you will never know.

Even worse, that failure to chase and activate a connection will rob you of your confidence the next time around. It is a vicious cycle, a downward spiral that leads to fear, indecision, inaction, and decay. Simply affirming and following through on connections as they pass before you is very encouraging and empowering. They are the sparks of social interactions and experiences that feed me with energy and life, rather than drain me of it like so much of the mundane day-to-day. It sounds so simple that it’s stupid, but I backed down from my fears often enough when I was young that it became embedded behavior. Breaking the pattern is not easy, until you are ready. Once you are, I think it just happens. Be mindful, aware, well-researched, and prepared for the opportunity when it presents itself. It is only natural to hesitate, but once you decide that backing down is no longer an option, you learn to go for it. You will talk to the person you want to talk to, make the plans you want to make, climb the crag you want to climb, ski the line you want to ski, whatever. Do it often enough and you might even start to live the life that you want to live.

Not to confirm my introverted nerd pedigree, but Frank Hebert’s Dune framed the mindset that helped me make things happen. This litany against fear is taught by the Bene Gesserit, an enlightened order of superhuman women who pull the strings behind the scenes in the universe.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

I feel the fear more often than I would like to admit. I learned to respect it because it keeps me alive, but I have also learned to face it because it can keep me from living.

Now, I am certain that somebody else has captured these sentiments before. I am probably regurgitating a melange of several profitable self-help books. But, well, I haven’t actually read those books, or learned those lessons from anyone else. May as well just get over the crippling self-consciousness and put it out there. I am figuring it out myself, just like the rest of us.

Besides, that self-help series is only profitable because it speaks to some fundamental truths which we’ve all recognized at some point: that growth begins at the point of resistance, that you should activate and embrace the connections that form in your life. But people forget and need to be reminded until they internalize it and make it part of their decision-making process. That last part is the key. I think it comes back to being truly ready for change. To learn more, buy my upcoming self-help workbook series (only five easy payments of $19.99). Don’t delay; call today.

And so I have learned to embrace and follow-through on that instinct to explore. And to meet people. And to make connections. The adventures you go on, the experiences you have and the people you meet, are truthfully impossible to plan. All you can do is put yourself in the right situation and be prepared. The logistics and risk-management are where the planning comes in and my OCD side can run rampant. But once you are confident in your preparation, the doing is all that remains. You just stare it down, push off, and go.

And so it was, after exploring two different ends of the Carson Pass area, it was self-evident to connect the dots. Two points. Draw a line between. A new connection. Simple, really. Add two new people. Friends of a friend. Phil and Dave. New connections. The ski traverse itself was what I initially meant to write about. It felt pretty adventurous. We started at the Carson Pass trailhead, went up to Round Top, traversed behind the Sisters, skied down to Fourth of July Lake, ascended again, skied into Emigrant Basin from the Far Corner through a perfect notch in the ridge line, and skinned out to Kirkwood’s backside chairlifts, sneaking a ride back into the bounds of civilization. Took us over six hours. I channeled my inner ski bum and hitch-hiked back to our car at Carson Pass and dug up the beers we had cached in the snow. Victory was declared.

The world itself remains the same. The peaks are still there. No first ascents or descents were pioneered. Pretty mundane stuff, really. But my world has grown immeasurably. And it continues to grow as I remain open to exploring new places and meeting new people. It is my pursuits out of doors that have led me to this place, where I come alive and feed on the energy around me. But that’s just for me. It could be anything for anyone, it doesn’t matter, the point is just to chase it, feed off of it, make connections.

In the past few years as I’ve embraced this backcountry sport, I have recognized that there is a huge spectrum of people engaged in these pursuits. The worlds of mountaineering and ski touring champion the pioneers, much like our national narrative. To go boldly where no man has gone before, to be a pioneer is to be a hero. And rightly so. But there are a lot of us on this planet now, and there are only so many places that remain undiscovered and undocumented.

The achievement of the first ascent, or first descent, is certainly something to be celebrated, but the focus on this elusive achievement should not distract us amateurs from the underlying spirit that we really aspire to. Every new peak I climb is a first ascent. Every new line I ski is a first descent. The people and places that enable these experiences are the connections that make life grow.

I remember how NBC used to sell their summertime re-runs: “If you haven’t seen it, then it’s new to you.” Thanks NBC, for that friendly reminder to turn off the TV and get out there. There is a world of places, people, and ideas waiting out there for you to connect with and discover for yourself.

2 Responses to “Connecting the Distance”
  1. Erin Block says:

    “I feel the fear more often than I would like to admit. I learned to respect it because it keeps me alive, but I have also learned to face it because it can keep me from living.” Such truth in this piece, Daniel. As I read, I thought about connections….about tracks…and about how they’re so obvious in all that white, looking back. But ahead? Too much glare, yet we walk on.

    Awesome post.

    • Daniel says:

      It’s funny how one can sit down with a story in mind and have something else entirely come out. I get concerned that it is hackneyed and plain, that everything I have to say is a cliché. I don’t know if that’s a common fear, but it is one that is probably not doing anybody any favors. Every time I make myself just put it out there, I get more comfortable with it. I’ve been going through the same process learning to climb rocks, despite a healthy fear of falling.

      And to even get to that point, sometimes you have to sit down and visualize the rear view to figure out where you came from. It isn’t always as clear as an artfully set track in the snow. There are other interesting analogies to be found in the skin tracks – there are often many at popular trailheads, some vaguely following known but buried summer trails, their interpretations diverging in the woods, reflecting the personalities and decisions of their makers. You can choose to trust those who have come before you and follow them, gaining efficiency and speed, or you can set your own. In the end, they’re all wiped clean by the elements, sometimes by wind, always by the next storm. And then you start over with a blank slate, time and time again.

      Thank you for reading, Erin!

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